Waste, thy name is government

Looking behind the scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Peering into the mythical notebook while realizing that even Cher’s Farewell Tour took less time than it does for Gottschalks to wind up its going-out-of-business sale ... Some other things that have taken far too long to go out of business are the myriad California state panels, boards and commissions. While the bulk of them were good for little more than providing some termed-out politician with a place to keep him or her from having to go to work for a living, they’re even more noxious now that unemployment figures are rising faster than the credit card rates. By the way, anybody else notice that according to legislative records, there are just 540 fewer state employees than when this awful recession began? Compare that to more than a half-million California private sector jobs going out of existence during the same period. If my math is correct — and the gentle readers are well aware it sometimes isn’t — that works out to about a thousand lost private sector jobs for every governmental gig that has disappeared. Getting back to those useless and semi-useless commissions et. al.; if the state legislature would be as brilliant in creating private sector jobs as it was in inventing landing sites for former politicos and party hacks and contributors, this state’s economy would be booming. Proving that adequate minds think alike, reader Vern Bishop e-mailed me a lengthy list of current state boards and commissions, and believe me, just reading it brings a tear to my wallet. Bishop, who claims to be a former resident of “North North Auburn” prior to moving up the hill, has found some lash-ups that have to make even the Legislature wonder what was on their collective feeble minds when they created them. For example, were you aware that there exists a California Bureau of Home Furnishings? Other than providing even more comfy chairs for bureaucrats to nap in during daylight hours, what is the possible use to the taxpayers of this group? There’s a state Athletic Commission, a Council for the Humanities, a Board of Behavioral Sciences and even a Commission on the Status of Women. Actually, there are more than a few groups which, on paper, appear to be dedicated solely to providing a resting place for each and every minority. There’s a group in charge of the California African Museum, another called the Pacific Island Legislative Caucus, and to cover the few uncovered elsewhere, the Biodiversity Council. Bishop was unable to find an organization dedicated to taxpayers. You remember us — the ones who have to fund these mostly inane gaggles. The worst — and this is my opinion, not necessarily that of Bishop’s — is the California Waste Management Board. Among that board are no fewer than three termed-out legislators, each of whom pulls down about $130,000. Of course, it’s not free money. After all, that board is forced by charter to meet once a month. It’s not quite on the level of the per diem racket, but 130K will get you through the winter. Odd, isn’t it, that a legislature can furlough state workers, slash educational funds and whittle down police and firefighter ranks to a dangerous level, yet at the same time, it allows these commissions to fritter away taxpayers’ dollars during the most cruel economic times. Well, first things first. ... Kudos: In the space remaining, allow me to drop a “well done” to Kahl Muscott, the guy running the Auburn Recreation District. Forget, if you can, that no matter who replaced the former director would look very good by comparison. Muscott, to his credit, didn’t just rely upon that to make his mark. He has quietly turned around that board, improved local recreational amenities despite operating on a budget that would starve an anorexic parakeet, and is quietly planning for a future despite current economic conditions. As is the case of any governmental entity, Muscott wants more funds for his organization. But unlike the bulk of the current crop, he’s willing to wait. He wants a hike in the current mitigation fees, which are earmarked for recreation, but he quickly adds he realizes “this is not the time to ask for it. Perhaps sometime down the line.” Muscott says studies show those fees ought to be about $8,000 per new home, but, again, he’s pragmatic and when the time comes, will most certainly ask for less. If we had more space, we could add a plethora of platitudes for Muscott, but let me end with my favorite. When Muscott took over, morale among the district’s employees was lower than whale dung. Quietly, and efficiently, he’s restored morale, mostly through a timely compliment, a pat on the back, or just by showing up unexpectedly. Wish there were more like him. Reach Jim at